Thursday, September 2, 2010

Glass Houses

Before you hit that "Publish Post" button - think carefully!

I tend to think of my personal blog as a place to share my thoughts: to philosophize, to critique, to vent. Sometimes writing a blog post feels like writing a personal email. The whole idea of the blog is to allow visitors to get to know me better - and hopefully, to interest them in the possibility of reading my books.

A recent incident, though, reminded me that there's nothing "personal" about a blog, or at least nothing private. A close friend posted a blog that expressed some opinions about other authors. As it turned out, he made some assumptions that were not true. His mistakes were based on ignorance rather than malice. Nevertheless, a firestorm of criticism erupted in response. One of the authors mentioned found her way to his post via Google Alerts and then all hell broke loose - mostly not on on the original blog but on another public blog that has even higher visibility. The poor guy was greatly chagrined. He apologized profusely, but to some extent the damage had been done. I do think that in the future he'll check his facts more carefully before clicking that button.

The debacle forcefully reminded me that on the Internet, we all live in glass houses. We may think of ourselves as relatively obscure (I do, at least), "talking" in our blogs to a relatively small group of supporters, but the fact is, everything I write here is potentially available to the billions of individuals who now have access to the Internet. In fact, even people who don't speak English may pick up on my posts. A while ago Google Alerts led me to a really weird, distorted version of one of my reviews on a Russian website. Apparently, the poster had run the review through Google to translate it to Russian, and then back into English. Very strange!

Anyone could Digg one of my posts, or link to it on their own blog, or send it to Facebook. Every day the network of potential connections grows denser. When I Google my pen name, I find pages and pages of links, to bookstores, to blogs, to other authors''s amazing, a bit humbling and just slightly scary.

So I constantly have to remind myself to be careful. For the most part I don't post personal photos on any public website. When I want to share pictures with family and friends, I'll put them up on a password-protected section of one of my personal sites. I don't discuss in too much detail where I live or what I do or who I know. This is true of both my writing persona and my real world self.

It's always tempting to reveal more. On Yahoo lists, or commenting on blogs, I'll meet authors or readers with whom I share some experience, and there's that desire to link up, to say, "Oh, me too! I've been there! I lived in that town! I went to that university!". I've got to sit on myself to stop and think first. Does this reveal too much about me? Do I want strangers to know this?

It's a delicate balance, especially when blogging. The whole concept behind blogging is self-disclosure. Readers want to know about authors' lives. If I sanitize my blog posts too much, stripping all the personal details, they'll be boring.

Sometimes, especially in the romance world, one feels like one belongs to a big, enthusiastic family. I'd love to give in, connect, become intimate. But it isn't just friends who can peer into my glass house. I've got to be careful what I say, because on the 'Net, anything could come back to haunt me.

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